MILLENNIALS: Embrace Millennials' Values, with Jon Iwata

Jon Iwata is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM. As a member of the communications team for over 25 years, Iwata has taken an active interest in watching the workforce change. Every year he meets with IBM’s summer interns for an informal focus group on the state of emerging talent. In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Iwata explores key millennial values and what every company can do to embrace them.

One of the greatest meetings I have any year at IBM is breakfast with our summer interns. And I’ve been doing this now for over 15 years. And so they’re just wonderful interactions with these young people and they’re full of energy and they want to make a good impression and they’re working on interesting things. But I use it as a kind of personal focus group and I’ve asked the same set of questions for over 15 years. I ask questions like, “There’s breaking news this afternoon. How are you going to hear about that news? Tell me about that.” “You’re going to shop for a product starting this afternoon. Tell me about how you’re going to initiate that journey to purchase something.”

And, of course, as you guess over the years the answers to that have changed a lot. Well just a few weeks ago I met with this year’s, you know, group of summer interns. They’re all millennials by definition. And I talked a lot about what makes a millennial a millennial. And I’m, of course, comparing it to everything I’ve read about millennials. And it is true that the purpose of their work matters greatly to them. They don’t want to differentiate what they do in their personal life from what they do in their professional life. It matters to them. They are technology savvy. They take it for granted. It’s like breathing to them. And they assume that the companies they work for or engage with are going to engage with them on that basis. They are highly empowered with information and they rely on social networks not for idle things alone but to make decisions. All true.

What surprised me in this group are two things. One is they said, “As much as we’re doing this [using smartphones] all the time, we really value face-to-face. And we want to work in a place where we get to work with people physically.” And so I think X years ago people said, “No, I’d like to work at home or work on the road” and all the rest. Very, very different with at least this generation of young professionals. This [smartphone use] plus face-to-face. And so suddenly at IBM, you know, we’re having to pay a great deal of attention to the physical design of our offices and labs, the physical environments, the technical tools together. The team configurations, the method of working, all very, very important to millennials and it won’t be limited to millennials.

The last point I’ve asked for, you know, a long time now, “How many of you, you know, are concerned about giving away your personal information?” You know you’re telling everybody in the world like what you’re doing and where you are and what you’re looking for. And people who aren’t millennials, let’s put it that way, say, “I would never tell the world those things about myself.” So, for example, “How many of you have turned off Geo Location on your smartphones?” Up until this year like one percent. I get like one or two hands saying I’ve turned off GPS on my smartphone. This year over half had turned it off and it was quite startling. And I said, “Well why did you do that?” "Because I don’t want my physical location to be seen by companies and other entities. That’s my data, not their data.” Others said, “I turn it on and off because I get serviced for that.” What I learned from this is this is not just a tech-savvy generation meaning this [smartphone usage]. This is a tech savvy generation when they understand that one of the most powerful things and most valuable things they own is their data, is their personal information and they’re not going to naively give it away without return of value to them. And that’s a great eye-opener. First, it gives me hope that they’re not naively embracing technology to their regret one day. It gives me hope that it will cause, whether it’s a government or a business, a healthcare system, a university system to respect the customer, the employee, the citizen. And that’s only a healthy thing.

 

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, explores key millennial values and what every company can do to embrace them.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.